FromSoftware’s first DLC for Dark Souls III, Ashes of Ariendel, takes us back to one of Dark Souls‘ most intriguing locations, The Painted World of Ariamis. Bet no-one saw this coming.
Here I’ll be taking you through the trailer frame by frame, picking out details, drawing connections and speculating hard. They’ve crammed a lot into the two minute showcase, so buckle in.
First and foremost, the Ashes of Ariandel trailer is narrated by a male voice, one that we haven’t heard before.
Here’s what he has to say:
“Unkindled One, if you are like us, another forlorn soul with no place to call your own. Then show my lady flame.”
“The ashes have come…at last *evil cackle*”
I cover the “forlorn souls” conundrum a bit later, but there’s still some head-scratching to be done in the here and now. Who is his “lady”? And why do we have to gain entry by showing her “flame”? He also refers to “ashes” which he’s been expecting to arrive for quite some time by the sounds of things. It’s as if he’s manipulated us (hardly a rarity in Dark Souls) and set things in motion to bring us to this point, to offer him or something else these so-called “ashes”. Are we carrying the Ashes of Ariendel to someone? Does he already have poor Ariendel’s (whoever he/she is) and want ours for some maniacal purpose?
Not much to see here, other than the Chosen Undead trudging through a feisty snowstorm.
Ah, but here we see a couple of cloaked figures marching against the ensuing blizzard.
The camera then lingers on this female NPC. Her attire looks similar to Emma, the High Priestess of Lothric’s, or at least a number of Maiden sets scattered throughout Lordran, Drangleic and Lothric. I can’t help but feel there’s a strong relationship between this image and Velka’s statue. While understandable, considering witches, spellcasters and magic-flingers do tend to wear similar garb, perhaps she’s plays a more pivotal role than we might expect from her brief, early appearance in the trailer?
A giant, twisted being is lashing itself in what looks seems to be an environment similar to that found within the Cathedral of the Deep. Whoever or whatever it is, is whipping itself with a larger version of Velka’s Talisman, described as a “Medium for casting miracles of the Gods. This black tuft of hair that serves as a talisman belongs to Velka, Goddess of Sin.” Why do such a thing? It’s referred to as self-flagellation and in antiquity it was a common religious practice. Notably adopted by Roman Catholicism and Islam, believers would inflict this suffering upon themselves as a form of punishment, either as a sacrifice to show solidarity, or to prevent oneself from an unwanted affliction. What’s interesting (and rather nauseating) is the offering of blood that’s being drained into the large vessel the creature is hunched over. Can we conclude then, that this is a daily ritual of absolution from sin? Or are they carrying out the grim task of drawing out and collecting a powerful substance contained within their very being?
A hooded figure in armour, prostrating at the Cathedral of the Deep. We’ll get back to him later.
According to those who’ve received the press kit, this image is entitled “The Painter”. One thing’s for sure, this painting doesn’t look in good condition. Slathered in caked blood and seemingly bleached into oblivion, are we looking at the original painting of Ariamis? And if so, who or what has tarnished it?
Plus a cheeky nod to the Great Grey Wolf Sif I’d expect, but nothing more than that.
Finally we see the Painted World of Ariamis in all its next-gen glory. That’s not the only upgrade, as comparing the cathedral to the original, it’s been completely restored. Before it was a crumbling ruin, now it stands strong and proud. Someone’s come to this world, restored it and built upon it, but for what end?
Looks like a bloody dungeon where corpses are discarded and left as scraps for disgusting, insect-like enemies to feast upon.
Straight from Norse mythology enters “Antler Man”. He’s a big guy, with an even bigger axe. We see his Weapon Art, which resembles the Firestorm pyromancy. By slamming his bulky man-cleaver into the ground, the earth begins to quake around the Chosen Undead before dusty jets erupt outwards and send him flying. His existence could be an insight into the wider universe of the DLC, entirely separate from the grim cathedral and whatever else lurks there. To me, it’s entirely plausible he could be a settler who lives out in the wild judging by his rugged appearance, which suggests he’s been a part of this cold, harsh world for a long time.
Cue new weapons and spells.
So, we’re back to the prostrating man. But this time he’s handing the Chosen Undead a sliver of the painting’s ruined canvas as an offering. It’s impossible to tease out exactly why, but I’d imagine this is how we gain entry into the DLC.
This might come across as ridiculous, but remember “Antler Man”? Well going by his glorious bearded appearance and comparing it to this pious figure (and his beard), I can’t rid the notion from my mind that this is a former “settler” so to speak.
Please stick with me. Right at the beginning of the trailer, the narrator mentions “forlorn souls” which could refer to two things; one of which I’ll get to here, and the other I’ll dive into later. In Dark Souls II there’s a “Forlorn Set“, and its description reads, “Born of Aldia’s obssession with the First Sin, the Forlorn lost both their corporeal form and a world to call their own. Now they drift into other worlds, even in search of a home. But without self, one has neither beginning nor end, and so the Forlorn have only to wander.” This prostrating figure seems to be wearing the set, suggesting that he too is a forlorn soul. Maybe he’s defected to the theology of the Painted World? Does this suggest that other inhabitants of the Painted World are succumbing to this fate?
Cue a montage of these guys.
At first I was puzzled; why on earth would Bandai Namco and FromSoftware bung in a montage of random bosses? Then it hit me, and I’m sure a lot of other Souls lovers. They aren’t random at all, but a handpicked selection that are in some way related to Gwyn‘s bloodline. Narrowing it down even further, it’s a clear reference to Gwyn’s daughter Gwynevere: Aldrich is consuming her younger brother Dark Sun Gwnydolin, Oceiros is her husband, the Twin Princes are her children and the Nameless King her older, rebellious brother.
And yet, there are still a couple of elusive faces missing.
Gwynevere had a child with Oceiros (he appears to clutch thin air and bangs on about him, the poor fella) and taking a look at an excerpt of Divine Blessing‘s description, it reads, “After giving birth to Ocelotte, her youngest, she quietly disappeared.” Did she take her crossbreed son to a world known to be a sanctuary for such beings?
Lastly, we know from Gwynevere’s Ring of the Sun Princess found in the first Dark Souls that she had someone else in her life too, “The Princess of Sunlight Gwynevere left Anor Londo along many other deities, and later became wife to Flame God Flann.”
Almost every item concerning Gwynevere – some of which aren’t mentioned here – mention her drifting from one place to another. She never seems to settle and constantly bears children before disappearing off somewhere. Is she in fact a bit forlorn too?
A river of blood snakes towards the large vessel…
Here we see a sorcerer dressed in Cornyx‘s set at the Untended Graves. A flame is consuming his right hand, yellow phantoms seep from his body and writhe towards the sky in what looks to be a miracle of some kind.
Is this a new spell? An optional ending perhaps?
Now we get a good look at the “Crow Lady”. I’ve seen speculation that she’s actually Gwynevere or even Velka herself. I’m not so sure, I believe she’s a completely new character and a boss that we’ll simply have to face in order to find out more. In the trailer she turns her head and lets out an ear-splitting screech that ignites the entirety of the area she was performing her painful ritual in (boss fight cut-scene snippet for sure). In the last clip she’s actually bashing the Chosen Undead with the vessel, until she pours the contents of it all over him right at the end. With a glowing, golden hue like honey, it’s definitely not blood, but what looks to be Estus Soup! Are we finally going to learn the origins of this life-saving tipple?
The second of the “forlorn souls” the narrator refers to, lies in this “Crow Lady” and her Corvian roots. The term “Corvian” stems from the Italian word for crow – “Corvo”. You’ll remember encountering a slew of Corvians as you battled your way through the Road of Sacrifices and a few at your grave in the pitch black Untended Graves. As you approach them they recoil, before going nuts, sprouting wings and attacking you in a clamouring, biting, scratching frenzy. Reading the description of the Corvian Greatknife expands on this reaction, “A rather large dagger with a powerful attack, but this transparent attempt to intimidate foes reveals much about its owners’ fears.” Turns out they’re afraid of something, explaining their cowardly behaviour. It’s almost as if these ‘fears’ aren’t entirely existential, but stem from a source that lies within the new DLC.
It’s worth taking a look at the other Corvian weapons and items, as they enlighten us a tad on their nature and also the legacy of the Painted World of Ariamis.
The Great Corvian Scythe is described as the, “Great Scythe of the forlorn souls guided by heretical storytellers. The Mistress of the Painted World is said to wield a great scythe herself.” And the Storyteller’s Staff reads, “Staff of a heretic storyteller who shares tales of the Painted World to forlorn souls. The Storytellers, too are wretched beings with no place to go. Their bodies, souls, and even their staves are all tainted through and through.”
Picking out the highlights, we begin with the storytellers as ‘heretical’. This implies that weaving stories of the Painted World within the universe of Dark Souls III goes against what’s generally acceptable. Seems that chatter about the Painted World is outlawed or even considered a lie, perhaps it’s no more than a myth or legend to most?
Moving onto the ‘The Mistress of the Painted World’, it shouldn’t be too difficult to ascertain that this is Crossbreed Priscilla, said to be so powerful that even the Gods feared her. Her Lifehunt Scythe is very much the crux of this apprehension, as it channels her ‘Lifehunt’ ability that’s said to turn on the wielder if they’re not strong enough to handle it, literally sapping them of life.
What’s she up to nowadays anyway? Lets turn to Aldrich and see.
By defeating Aldrich and transposing his soul, you can craft a miracle entitled, you guessed it – Lifehunt Scythe. Reading its description, it states, “Steals HP of foes using an illusory scythe. Aldrich dreamt as he slowly devoured the God of the Darkmoon. In this dream, he perceived the form of a young, pale girl in hiding.” In short, Aldrich has the ability to dream of something and acquire its power, whatever it may be. While devouring Darksun Gwyndolin, he dreamed of Crossbreed Priscilla who’s confirmed to be hiding away, presumably within the same painting she refused to leave many thousands of years ago.
Crossbreed Priscilla was said to have been born of dragons, and the most likely candidate for one half of the equation is Seath the Scaleless. Now, this is a trivial connection, but go with it. In Dark Souls II we come across a friendly Crow Demon – unfriendly ones can be found in the Painted World – named Weaponsmith Ornifex. You could give her boss souls and she’d transpose them like Ludleth into powerful loot. I listened back to her dialogue and this particular part stood out to me, “It is said that our technique originates from a strange being that inhabited this land. A pale beast that lived long, long ago. We don’t even know exactly what it was.” Undoubtedly there’s a connection between Paledrake, Seath the Scaleless, and the Crow Demons. You’ve probably noticed I’ve not referred to them as Corvians, and that’s because I’m unsure as to whether these Crow Demons are, in fact, a separate race. Corvians appear less of an established race or ‘kind’, and more of a hollowed soul that’s taken on the form of a crow. Who knows if any of this trivia will gain any traction when we set foot in Ashes of Ariendel, but it’s certainly food for thought eh?
Finally my favourite part, the most exciting part, the “I hope it’s true” part.
Credit goes to Reddit user DamnNoHtml, who discusses it in this thread. DamnNoHtml listened to the first four notes of tinkly piano in the Ashes of Ariendel trailer which kick in roughly around the 20 second mark. He comes to the realisation that it’s the same four notes used in Aldia’s Theme from Dark Souls II, and creates a second video overlaying these notes on top of the original trailer. It fits well and boy does it further inflate my boundless adoration for FromSoftware if it is intentional – as to the untrained ear, it’s supremely difficult to pick up on.
It was one of my deepest desires to see the return of, in my humble opinion, the best character in the entire Souls series. His human form cast away by his hideous experiments, Aldia the Scholar of the First Sin sought immortality in an attempt to bypass the curse. His existence in Dark Souls III hasn’t been hinted at, and his place in the Dark Souls narrative is still awaiting a definitive answer. In this dissection of Ashes of Ariendel we do however, begin to see references to ‘forlorn souls’, the ‘Forlorn Set’ and a focus on those cast away for being ‘different’. All of which, Aldia is either implicated in, or associated with.
Aldia’s always been an outside figure, yet one that seems central to Souls. It’s about time he shakes things up again.
To round it off, here’s some extras from the official screenshots. One of them indicates a new PvP arena in the Kiln of the First Flame where we fight the final boss, and the other…well look to the right of the picture and prepare to be freaked out.
I couldn’t be happier with the direction this DLC has taken. The Painted World has always been an aspect of the lore which many, including myself, had almost forgotten about. And yet, instead of plunging us into a new area, FromSoftware threw us a magnificent curveball. It’s almost as if they’re saying, “That small, unassuming optional area from the first game? Yep, in actual fact, it holds a terrible secret.” While we were scrabbling around looking to unlock some answers, they were watching and chuckling as they jangled the keys all this time.
Speaking to Kotaku, Hidetaka Miyazaki said that Ashes of Ariendel will offer a “different feel” from the rest of the game. If our Lord and Saviour is hitting us with a new formula, a new texture, a new flavour of Souls – we’re in for nothing less than a treat.